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Ex-New Mexico lawmakers now lobbyists raising eyebrows

March 9, 2019
FILE - In this March 21, 2015, file photo, then-Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola, examines a proposal during a state capital funding debate on the New Mexico House floor at the Capitol in Santa Fe. Rodella, a Democrat who represented Espanola until she lost her seat in 2018, is one of a few former officials who were public servants last session and lobbyists this year, in 2019. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Some former New Mexico lawmakers and public officials are lobbying the Legislature even though they’ve been out of office less than a few months.

And there is no state law to prevent it.

Former Rep. Debbie Rodella, a Democrat who represented Española until she lost her seat last year, is one of a few former officials who were public servants last session and lobbyists this year, the Albuquerque Journal reported . She’s a lobbyist for an association of community bankers and was spotted last month handing out red chile enchiladas to lawmakers.

Keith Gardner, the chief of staff under then-Gov. Susana Martinez, also has registered as a lobbyist. He’s lobbying for the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Select Energy Services, a Texas-based company.

Some legislators have tried repeatedly to pass lobby reform bills — with proposals to impose a one- or two-year “cooling off” period. But those proposals have failed to gain any traction.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said a cooling-off period of some kind would be appropriate.

“It just doesn’t feel right to immediately be in a position where you’re coming back to your colleagues - who you were an equal with - and the next day you’re lobbying them on behalf of a client,” he said.

However, opponents say it isn’t right to restrict someone’s right to make a living.

Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, said that a one-year cooling-off period would be reasonable but that he’s not sure it would make a difference. It’s difficult, he said, to legislate for bad behavior.

“I’m not doing what I do as a legislator to set the stage for something afterwards,” Rue said.

Martinez, a Republican who left office in December, supported legislation restricting lobbying by ex-lawmakers, and she banned administration officials from lobbying executive state agencies or the Legislature for two years after leaving their jobs.

Gardner said he is in compliance with state law and isn’t lobbying the governor’s office, where he had worked.

“I’m not working on things that I did when I was in the office, nor influencing people that I had influence over in my role previously,” he said.

Rodella previously served as chairwoman of the House Business and Industry Committee, where proposed regulations on lending sometimes came up.

She lost her re-election bid in last year’s Democratic primary to a more liberal challenger, Susan Herrera. Rodella refused to comment to the Albuquerque Journal.

A proposal that would restrict lobbyist spending during the legislative session and require lobbyists to disclose what bills they worked on afterward is headed to the Senate after winning approval 62-0 in the House last week.

House Bill 131 would require lobbyists or their employers, after the session ends, to list each piece of legislation they lobbied on and whether they supported, opposed or took another position on the measure.

In 2013, a report released by Common Cause New Mexico identified 26 former legislators who work as lobbyists.

Former Sen. Dede Feldman, now a consultant for Common Cause, pushed unsuccessfully for legislation aimed at halting the “revolving door” of lawmakers and lobbyists.

One year, she said, a senator resigned specifically to take a lobbying job, then was greeted as an old friend in his new role.

“It’s part of this political culture,” Feldman said, “where the legislators have the antiquated vision of the Roundhouse as a village, and when their villagers come back, they’re hailed as a prodigal sons.”

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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